ST. MARY’S—The executive in charge of Atlantic operations for international gold mining giant St Barbara is declining to provide job details for pit operations scheduled to begin near Sherbrooke in 2028, according to the warden of the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s.
“I’m a little disappointed,” Greg Wier told members of council at the May 18 committee of the whole, referring to a letter he received this month from Laird Brownlie, head of external affairs for Atlantic operations, in response to council’s request in February for details on the local economic impact of the proposed Cochrane Hill project.
“We received back some possible job descriptions for the mine project, but no number of how many of each and no wages associated with them,” he said.
At the same time, Nova Scotia Environment Minister Tim Halman has sent the Australia-based company back to the drawing board for the second time in less than a year to flesh out its expansion plans at the Touquoy operation near Moose River. At issue were missing details on everything from ground and surface water management plans, to mitigation measures for wetlands, fish habitats and historic mine tailings at the site.
“Atlantic Mining NS Inc. [St Barbara] did not provide the information I requested in the Sept. 8 [Environmental Assessment] decision,” Halman stated in his May 12 letter to the company. “The information provided is insufficient to allow me to make a decision.”
St Barbara has one year to supplement its original application for Touquoy with the requested information.
In an email to The Journal last week, Atlantic Operations Communications Manager Dustin O’Leary stated: “St Barbara is very confident in the submissions it has made to the provincial government in support of its application to make modifications at that Touquoy Gold Mine. Our Company has made every effort to answer all questions relevant to our application and will continue to do so. We look forward to receiving a decision on this application that is based on sound scientific and engineering principles and the merits of the application itself.”
Still, some observers are complaining about a lack of clarity.
Although the Cochrane Hill and Touquoy projects are separate, they are related, according to earlier statements by St. Barbara to investors and regulators. The Cochrane Hill Gold Project Description Summary in Sept. 2018 stipulated that it would be “developed in association with the Touquoy Mine. Changes to Touquoy as a result of [Cochrane Hill] are anticipated to be minimal. Only minor changes to the existing processing facility at the Touquoy Mine site will be required …There will be a small increase in the volume of tailings deposition into the existing mined out Touquoy pit as a result of concentrate from [Cochrane Hill].”
According to Scott Beaver, president of the St. Mary’s River Association (SMRA), who has waged a four-year battle against St Barbara’s mining plans, especially at Cochrane Hill, the province’s decision earlier this month is a mixed blessing. “Any delay is a good delay,” he told The Journal in an email last week. “But, to the SMRA, this looks like a never-ending game of ping pong. Why not simply say, ‘I am not approving this project.’?”
He added: “Atlantic Gold's ongoing inability to be transparent and supply the required information proves they cannot be trusted to comply with the environmental regulatory process… This type of governing wreaks havoc on communities.”
While not quite havoc, St Barbara’s reticence to flesh out the potential local economic impact of Cochrane Hill is now raising eyebrows at St. Mary’s council.
“I can see where they wouldn’t be able to tell us exactly about what’s going on with Cochrane Hill because it’s not even open yet,” Wier said, “[but] I’d asked [if it was] possible to give some jobs [numbers] and some pay scales for the one that’s [already] opened at Touquoy … [They say] they’re ‘looking forward to working with us’ to give us more information.”
In March 2020, O’Leary told the Journal: “During the life of the proposed Cochrane Hill project, over $550 million in economic activity will be generated and we are working with the local council and stakeholders to ensure that the community maximizes their ability to capitalize on this opportunity.”
He added at that time that St. Mary’s council had already completed an economic impact assessment of the proposed mine showing the operations would “increase overall municipal taxes 12.5 per cent immediately upon opening” and create “hundreds of jobs available to residents with an average salary of over $84,000 per year.”
Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal